Starring Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate. Rated 14A.
It all started in a 5,000-watt station in Fresno, California. No, wait: that's Ted Baxter. The spirit of Mary Tyler Moore's newsroom has hovered closely over all his descendants, of course, especially in the TV-mocking world of TV itself, on Saturday Night Live ("I'm Chevy Chase..."), SCTV ("I'm Earl Camembert..."), and even CNN ("I'm Wolf Blitzer..."). But can a lacquer-haired news reader carry a whole movie? Judging from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the answer is: we'll get right back to you with that important story.
"I don't know how else to say this," explains legendary San Diego anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), attempting his latest conquest, "but I'm pretty important around here." Indeed, as the face of TV news "in a time before cable" (as Bill Kurtis's narration explains it), Burgundy pretty much has it all, at least south of L.A. But his early-'70s world, and the glass ceiling of local broadcasting, is about to be shattered by the comely Christina Applegate, playing ambitious would-be anchorwoman Victoria Corningstone--bearer of just one of many delightfully implausible names.
For example, Ron's butterfly-collared acolytes at the station are called Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and Brick Tamland (The Daily Show's Steve Carell, stealing every scene as a weatherman with the IQ of adobe). Then there's rival anchordude Wes Mantooth, played by Vince Vaughn in the most prominent of several uncredited cameos; a bunch more show up in a news-gang warfare sequence that, like much of what happens later on, was probably more fun to shoot than it is to watch.
No matter, since the setups remain pretty zippy at least half the way in. Most of the tension, if that's the right word, is about Burgundy's instant attraction to Victoria and how this undermines both his iconic standing and his rep with the guys, who are a little too Roncentric for their own good. Their tightness does, however, lead to an unforgettable a capella version of "Afternoon Delight". But sometimes a newsman has to slip off his maroon sports coat and go out on his own, as in the funniest set piece, when our orotund hero indulges in a jazz-flute orgy at a local nightclub--complete with shout-outs to Jethro Tull.
Ferrell cowrote the Anchorman script with director Adam McKay, who was head writer at Saturday Night Live before Tina Fey stepped in, and to call it erratic is to imply too much coherence. Scenes rise or fall with whimsical arbitrariness, although something of a through line is established by having Fred Willard, in a change-of-pace straight role, as the station's long-suffering news chief. The movie isn't much to look at and there are many dull patches, but at least the filmmakers didn't make their female protagonist a saint. In fact, she may have been the first "embedded journalist".